Sunday, July 21, 2019
Lectionary 16, Year C

Prayer of the Day

Eternal God, you draw near to us in Christ, and you make yourself our guest. Amid the cares of our lives, make us attentive to your presence, that we may treasure your word above all else, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Readings and Psalm

Genesis 18:1-10a The hospitality of Abraham and Sarah to three visitors of the Lord
Psalm 15
Colossians 1:15-28 Hymn to Christ, the firstborn of all creation
Luke 10:38-42 Jesus says: Martha, your sister Mary has chosen the better part


Title:  Getting Your Mary AND Martha On.

Perhaps it’s as automatic today as shouting “Alleluia! Christ is Risen” on Easter.  As expected as singing Silent Night on Christmas Eve.  As required as wearing red on Pentecost.  Yes, today we can almost guarantee that somewhere, someone who has read today’s gospel is asking: Are you a Mary or a Martha?  Or, someone who has heard it, is asking themselves:  Am I a Mary or a Martha?

As female friends of Jesus go, we hear quite a bit about Mary and Martha.  This story introduces them.  When, Jesus is too late to prevent their brother Lazarus from dying, which causes both women in turn to say to Jesus, “if only you’d have been here, our brother would not have died.”  Of course, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and restores the family.  Then, when Lazarus hosts a dinner with Jesus as the guest of honor, perhaps to celebrate his new life and thank Jesus for it, Mary is back at the teacher’s feet, this time anointing them with oil and drying them with her hair.  And Martha is back running from kitchen to table.  This time, not complaining, just rejoicing.  And according to Mark’s gospel, after the events of that day that we call Palm Sunday, Jesus retreated from Jerusalem and again went to Bethany.  Perhaps to stay with his good friends one last time.  The home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus was certainly a place of friendship and hospitality for Jesus.

Today, we also see hospitality on display by Abraham as the Lord appears to him and brings good news that Sarah, old as she may be, will yet have a baby.

It’s not surprising that hospitality is jumping out of the readings this morning.  Scott and I have just returned from a most amazing adventure in which we enjoyed some very gracious hospitality from old friends and new friends, hotel and restaurant staff.  From train crews to boat crews, from taxi drivers to bus drivers it seemed everyone we encountered offered us the warmest hospitality.  It was a blessed journey.

Meanwhile, on the topic of hospitality, our hearts were breaking.  For while we were strangers in a strange land being treated with graciousness, we could not avoid the reports from our own land that continues to sink deeper and deeper into a most inhospitable waste land for those who need hospitality the most – the immigrant, the refugee, the asylum seeker, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the voiceless, the oppressed.

So, in the face of hospitality shown and hospitality denied, let’s go back to the hospitality question of the day – whose example do you follow Mary or Martha.  But before you answer it, I would like to let you off the hook and offer you the option of answering the question “Mary or Martha?” by saying BOTH!  Mary AND Martha.  I know, I know, Jesus said Mary picked the one thing we need.  However, if I might be so bold as to interject – living as members of the body of Christ in the world, it isn’t always only about what we need – and thus being Mary, sitting and listening; there is also what we can do, what others need from us – being Martha.

To make my case for this none-answer to the question of the day, I’ll continue to reflect on the hospitality that I have witnessed these past four weeks.  Even before we left for vacation.  I speak of the same hospitality that Mary experienced at the feet of Jesus.  The divine hospitality that feeds and sustains us.  And how my inner Mary (a dangerous phrase for a gay man to speak), but how my inner Mary has been fed.  For me, this has been enjoyed in some wonderfully beautiful and significant worship events taking place in some of my favorite worship spaces.  Back on June 22nd, a large group gathered at Saint Peter’s at 54th and Lexington to celebrate the life and new life in death of Father John Damm, a mentor and friend to me.  It was a glorious event that truly reflected this pastor who found God’s hospitality in well-executed worship.  The next day St. John’s hosted a most joyous liturgy celebrating Stonewall 50 that ended with a procession to Stonewall.  The following weekend we lifted the roof with gospel night as hundreds (no exaggeration) came in off the street to witness the joy that was flowing out, as our unique praise event saw the spirit fill every presenter, including Scott singing while wearing a gold cape. The next day, a most unique liturgy was had in a city park at 29th and 2nd reminding us that God is truly present wherever we gather in God’s name.  The next Sunday we were in York, England, in one of my favorite cathedrals. And to our surprise, we got to hear the Archbishop of Canterbury preach because the Church of England was gathered there for their General Convention.  Then, last Sunday we joined our friends Liz and Larry (who have worshipped here when visiting) at their very simple and sincere Church of Scotland parish. The perfect culmination of these sacred encounters was realized on that holy island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland, what, for some of us is a thin place.  In the ancient abbey built by St. Columba, there was time for reflections on the wonder of creation.  And on the next night, prayers for healing.  In all these events, as varied as they were, we, and all the gathered, were invited to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to the promises of God, to hear again the good news that Paul writes of in Colossians – that through Christ, we are welcomed back into relationship with God, we are reconciled to God, we experience God’s perfect and complete hospitality.  Every worship, whether in a gothic cathedral or next to the playground of a city park with a water fountain as our altar, we are invited to be Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet.  In worship, God extends hospitality, speaks greetings and promises of love and life, invites us to the feast that will not end, and then, filled with all that has been set before us, the Spirit sends us out…

Out to be Martha.  Yes, the necessary part, as Jesus calls it, is to hear what God has done for us.  But then we are called to get our Martha on and share that hospitality with others, in Jesus name.  And this is what has me at a loss, as we hear elected officials and the people who vote for them, folks who profess to be siblings in Christ, yet who fail to get up from their Mary position of listening, and be Martha’s who have been told to go and love others as Jesus has loved us, welcome others as Jesus has welcomed us.

Yes, we need to be Mary, listening, growing in faith, breathing in new life from the source that is Jesus.  But the world needs us to be Martha, working, opening doors, feeding and clothing those in need.  Perhaps we are familiar with being Mary. We love the peace at Jesus’ feet.  But being Martha is more of challenge.  This past week, I saw that David took part in the weekly Jericho walk that is hosted by the New Sanctuary movement (that St. John’s is a part of) around a federal building downtown.  Having done this myself, after this past week’s events, speeches and chants, I am committing to getting back out there myself on as many Thursday mornings as possible.  Let me know if you want to get your Martha on and join me. Next Sunday afternoon, there will be a March Against Antisemitism in lower Manhattan.  Let me know if you wish to join that.  And if you are not a marching Martha kinda of person, we are again collecting for Operation Backpack.  More information will be in the e-letter and in the bulletin next week.  Sister Melinda got a big jump on this from last year.  Nothing says hospitality more to a young student than making sure they are well equipped for the new school year.

Just as there is a great diversity of ways to be Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus (I highlighted a variety of worship events, but there are other ways to encounter the welcoming spirit of Jesus), so there are a variety of ways for our Martha to offer hospitality in the name of Jesus.  So then, the question for the day is not, are you a Mary or a Martha.  Rather, let us ask how are we Mary – encountering the welcoming love of Jesus, and in response, how are we Martha, spreading that love that welcomes us and welcomes all, completely, with no obstacles, no walls, no laws, no exceptions that exclude.

To paraphrase Paul:  Christ is to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of Christ’s cross.  What joy for Mary to hear, what inspiration for Martha to serve.  Receive God’s gracious hospitality, in Jesus name.  Show hospitality to one another, in Jesus’ name.

The Rev. Mark Erson,

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